Home Archives 2008 February

Monthly Archives: February 2008

About Ross Twiddy:
Twiddy & Co. is a family owned property management company representing over 770 properties in the Outer Banks region of Twiddy North Carolina. Twiddy has been in operation since 1978 and has grown into one of the most reputable and popular management companies in the highly competitive Outer Banks market. Twiddy operates a sophisticated web site at www.twiddy.com and is recognized as an early adopter of the power of Search marketing in the vacation rental industry. In fact, Twiddy is cited by Google as a case study in the effectiveness of Adwords.

Q: Ross, you represent homes in the highly competitive Outer Banks market. What challenges do you face that are unique to the Outer Banks market compared to the industry at-large?

A: Cleaning over 4,200 bathrooms between check in and check out, every summer weekend. Because of the Outer Banks’ isolation, the cleaning force drives from over 3 hours, one way. The individuals who clean, support, or facilitate this weekly feat are amazing. To get up at 4am and then clean a 12 bedroom, $19,000/wk house where the guests’ expectations are inline with the price is Herculean. I’m sure the entire industry has this, but cleaning homes is the hardest and most rewarding thing we do. As the guests’ expectations continue to increase with the size, sophistication, and price of the homes the cleaning standards continue to rise as well.

Q: You are recognized as a pioneer in Search marketing in the vacation rental industry. How have you stayed on top of the ever changing Search landscape?

A: Lewis and Clark were pioneers, I just have big ears, eyes, and I’m slow. Last time I thought I was on top, I was the last one at the poker table with no money left. I stumble a lot, I have some scars, but more importantly I surround myself with folks much smarter than I. Then I try to hard to hang on and make sure they’re happy and they enjoy the partnership.

Q: Beyond Search, are you investing in additional online channels to drive awareness of Twiddy’s services and properties?

A: We’ve tried a number of different channels but have really scaled back compared to two years ago. It seems that the internet has calmed down a bit and streamlined based on what is working now. We’ll always be looking for the next or new avenue, but I think Staples’ website is the only one with the “easy button.” There are some folks out there now approaching websites with the guest in mind, and I think they’re getting closer to scratching to discover something shiny. So as usual we’ll keep stumbling around hoping to pick up some jewels. However don’t forget the basics. Search and data is an addiction and fortunately, we get to play in it every day.

Q: Twiddy tends to represent top quality homes – do you ever turn away clients if their properties do not meet a certain standard? If yes, how do you justify turning away business and do you refer them to a different company?

A: We’re in a very fortunate position because a great numbers of folks have been working extremely hard at Twiddy for a long time to get things right. Last year we turned down about 30 homes because the partnership wasn’t a good fit for either of us. You can’t be all things to all people, so focus on what you know and work hard towards it. If Twiddy doubled in size and the folks at the front counter aren’t smiling, the folks on the phone aren’t friendly, and the houses aren’t clean then we just lost. If we don’t think we’re the right fit, we point them in the direction of the folks who we think can help them the most. Fortunately, there are a great number of solid companies on the Outer Banks and there is enough room for all of us.

Q: Twiddy has been a family business since 1978, so it runs in your blood. If you weren’t in the vacation rental industry what profession would you have chosen?

A: In the sense that your blood holds the genes of your parents, I’ll totally agree. Anything I have or will do is a credit to their intelligence, patience, generosity, and vision. But there’s a powerful stereotype to the boss’ son for a reason. Blood doesn’t entitle. Pride in the family business should propel and the continuation in the family business is a function of performance. They put me in the right direction so in regards to the drinking well of another business, I just don’t think I’d have any thirst.

David Kaufman published an interesting article in the New York Times today about the soaring cost of hotel rooms due to an overall shortage of rooms. The article highlights that:

  • NYC’s hotel room rates rose 15.4% last year with average room rates at a blistering $320.87/night
  • In 2008, hotel rates are expected to rise by 5 – 8% in the U.S. and 12 – 14% in Europe
  • Room rate increases upwards of 35% year-over-year have been observed from India to London to Dubai

[Correction: David’s original article was published on January 20, 2008 in the New York Times]

* Click here to read David’s Full article republished today on Boston.com

The Times article highlights an opportunity for the vacation rental industry to promote its product as a strong alternative for guests that typically would have chosen to stay in a hotel room, but are being deterred by rising room rates. The combination of higher hotel rates with a faltering economy will likely deter travelers from traditional accommodations prompting the search for alternative vacation plans.

How rising hotel rates benefit the vacation rental market:

  • With rising room rates across all lodging categories, vacation rental managers can increase nightly rates while maintaining a competitive and often a more economical alternative for consumers
  • Depending on geography, managers can target aggressive ‘shoulder season’ campaigns and promotions to lure cash conscience travelers from traditional accommodations
  • Opportunity to expand vacation rentals beyond family destinations. Over occupancy in urban markets such as NYC, San Francisco, and Boston signal an opportunity for services to expand into city centers. (FlipKey has personal experience with managing vacation rentals in downtown Boston and can confirm that demand far exceeds supply in the downtown area – during all seasons)

The Times article sees the same opportunity for the vacation rental market and even provided a short plug:


Although they will be much harder to secure in 2008, savings will be available even in the highest-cost destinations for travelers willing to work for them. Henry H. Harteveldt, travel analyst with Forrester Research in San Francisco, suggested opting for apartments instead of hotels for stays longer than four days or for small groups. “They are far more economical and can feel much more like home,” said Harteveldt, who suggested using websites such as Condo.com . “This is something I actually did on a recent visit to New York.”

Our industry often focuses on competition between property managers and local rent-by-owners; however, its hotels that typically act as the primary competitive lodging alternative for many key markets. Rising hotel room and occupancy rates signals an immediate opportunity for the vacation rental industry to effectively promote itself as a mainstream lodging option.

FlipKey looks forward to working with active associations, local cambers of commerce and popular media channels to help promote the vacation rental category. The time is now!

Despite the title of this post, we are not suggesting managers constantly stay in contact with their guests – that would be annoying. Rather, we’d like to feature a useful email product that is available called “Constant Contact” (www.constantcontact.com).

A key component of vacation rental marketing is developing long term relationships will repeat customers. Families often travel to the same location each year, which calls for managers to stay top of mind as the calendar turns.

Managers have an assortment of techniques to keep guest records, but executing an efficient outreach campaign can prove challenging. This is where Constant Contact (CC) emerges as a useful tool. CC offers an easy to use email campaign tool. For as little as $15/month CC allows you to save your guest emails and send out well formatted, professionally composed emails during key promotional times. It’s easy, it’s inexpensive and it’s effective.

For example:
Acme Rentals has two key seasons – the summer and winter. Acme knows its guests tend to book three months in advance.

  • Acme sets up two customer lists in CC. One is labeled “Summer Guests” and the other is labeled “Winter Guests”
  • In May, Acme sends out a promotional email to its Summer Guests thanking them for their business and reminding them to reserve their home early before all units are booked. In the email they feature Summer events and “things-to-do” that guests may be interested in.
  • Acme sets up a similar campaign in September for its Winter guests.
  • Acme also sends an off season message to all guests highlighting new services (24 hour emergency number) and new homes they now offer.

Constant Contact makes this process easy and offers reporting tools to help you monitor who read your email and whether they clicked through to your site. Constant Contact is offering a 60-day free trial if you would like to give it spin.

*Note: FlipKey is a standard subscriber of Constant Contact, but has no formal business relation or affiliation.

I’m heading to Croatia this summer with a group of friends. Rather than bounce around from hostel to hostel we have decided to upgrade to a week-long boat charter. After a little online research, I submitted a request to a charter service and a boat broker quickly responded. He was very helpful, selected a perfect boat for the group and then asked me to wire $12K to the boat owner’s bank account.

Hold on – wait a minute. You want me to do what?

I had read enough international scams to smell on few fleas on this deal, so I kindly told the broker that if he couldn’t accept a credit card then I wouldn’t be able to reserve the boat. He insisted that he ran a legitimate operation and provided references of his past guests. I noticed one of his references was a professor at Babson College. A professor seemed like a legitimate reference, so I emailed him (email string featured below).

 


Professor X:


My name is Jeremiah Gall and I’m a Boston area resident. I’m a few months away from going on a trip to Croatia and considering renting a private boat charter. The company, a charter broker by the name of Navicular, gave your name as a reference. Our main contact, Manuel, said you rented the MS Eleganza and can verify the legitimacy of their business. We are being asked to wire $12K to the owner of the boat and are looking to verify this business and feel more confidence about sending this wire.

Please let me know if you can confirm and provide any information.

Cheers and thanks for your time,
Jeremy

— Response —

Jeremy,

I too was reluctant to wire the $15,000 up front, and had the business checked out by my son’s father-in-law who is Croatian. I had no issues with the final financial arrangement, but be sure to bring plenty of cash in euros as it is difficult to find cash on the islands. The experience we had on the Eleganza was fabulous, and my sons and their wives are pestering me to do it again. I can give the highest recommendation for Navicular from my experience with the captain, Lovre, he was honest, attentive and responsive. Have a great trip.

Professor X

The professor’s email satisfied my concerns and presto: I was converted into a wire transferring guest of the MS Eleganza!

Renting a boat charter requires the same level of trust, if not more, required to convert a vacation rental guest. How nice is the boat? How’s the crew? Is this a legitimate business? Where is my money really going? Add to these concerns an international element and only the strong of heart or those, like myself, who are provided the verified words of past guests will participate.

Trust is an international currency and it’s as difficult to find as a two dollar bill. Small lodging business operators (vacation rental managers, rent-by-owners, boat brokers, etc.) are all faced with the challenge of establishing trust with their end-customer.

Soon, FlipKey will open its doors and offer the industry the first dedicated resource to effectively establish and communicate trust to your customers.

A few months ago, I wrote a post on the potential of online video in the vacation rental industry, commenting on the impact online video services could have for vacation rental managers.

Since then I have discovered numerous niche travel websites where users share their travel videos with other travelers and watch informational guide videos to learn more about travel destinations.

Geobeats.com offers travelers high quality, informative travel videos, providing users with helpful information about specific travel destinations (mostly international) before they have to shell out the $$ to actually visit. Below is a screen shot and link to a video about the Beer Gardens in Berlin, Germany.

GeoBeats Screenshot

Emerging Video Services

Sites such as travelervideos.com and travelistic.com allow users to upload videos of their travels for other users to watch. Most of these services are ripe with ideas, but thin in actual content. For instance, travelervideos.com and travelistic.com have only acquired 5,859 and 5,348 videos, respectively.

Travelistic Screenshot

Of course, we’d be remise if we didn’t mention YouTube, which, along with water skiing squirrels, also has a solid inventory of travel related videos. YouTube is the solution of choice for many, as it allows users to place videos directly on their own sites through YouTube’s extension widget. However, general travel videos tend to get lost in the cloud of YouTube’s +2.5B video inventory. For example, the first three results in a search for “Miami Beach” on YouTube result in: (1) a video by Marilyn Mason; (2) three girls in a bikini walking on a beach; and (3) Brittney Spears sunbathing. Not exactly the video content property managers can use to drive more consumers to their destination.

Another interesting service is Triporia.com which offers similar services to the sites discussed above. In addition to offering a social video sharing service, Triporia also encourages businesses to create their own promotional videos.

Why promotional videos about a Property Management company could be useful:

  • Help emphasize professional management services offered (i.e. 24 hour emergency contact, on location recommendations, etc.)
  • Increase consumer confidence and convert more consumers from looking to booking vacation homes
  • Videos showing actual homes will give insight into what to expect from the vacation homes themselves

Triporia.com currently has less than 500 videos and very limited traffic, so its too early to endorse the service as a “must have” in the vacation rental industry. However, the idea of using this type of service as a promotional tool could prove to be an effective utility in building your brand, attracting more guests and ultimately driving more bookings.